Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Carlow’s Electoral History

Carlow’s electoral history

By: Willie White

 The Nationalist Jul 2010

THIS WEEK we are going to take a look at how the Carlow electoral area has changed through the ages.

We will be concentrating on national elections, while being aware of the value of our council and town councils. I would not have a hope of including all those elected from our area, so I have selected a few for obvious reasons.

Carlow is the second-smallest county in Ireland, covering an area of 346 square miles, (approximately 900sq kms). Only Louth is smaller. There are 597 townlands and seven baronies in the county. According to the 2006 census, the population is 50,349 (25,611 males, and 24,738 female), well down on the 1841 figures of 86,228, but an increase on the 1991 figure of 40,942.

At the beginning, I would like to clarify that prior to 1801, MPs were elected to the Irish House of Commons; while from 1801 to 1922, they sat in British Parliament.

We will start with a quick look at the early days, with the House of Commons Parliament of Ireland Constituency, and Carlow Borough, where records state that Sir John Bere and Sir John Jacob (both Dublin-based) were elected in 1613. The first Carlow address I have is that of Thomas Burdett, Garryhill, whose wife was Catherine Kennedy. He was elected in 1661.

The Patriot Parliament was called by King James II in 1689. This assembly lasted less than three months from 7 May to 20 July before reverting. The laws it had passed were declared null and void six years later. Members from Carlow who continued as MPs included Mark Baggot and John Warren, who married Arabella Butler of Ballintemple (which would have attained its name from an association with the Knights Templar, to whom it is believed the lands were donated by William Marshall) Ardattin in 1689, and was the son of Henry and Elizabeth Warren from Grangebegg, County Kildare.

The Butlers themselves have a long history of political life, starting with Arabella’s brother, Sir Thomas Butler, who was an MP for Carlow from 1692 until 1703. We will comment on other members of the Butler family later.

Following Arabella’s death, Warren married a Catholic (Katherine Walsh), which would later lead to him being branded a Jacobite supporter, causing him to lose much of his lands in Ballon and Tullow.

Sir Thomas Burdett from Garryhill, son of the previously mentioned Burdett family, served as sheriff of Carlow in 1701 and represented either the county or the borough as an MP from 1704 to his death in 1727. He was governor of Carlow for the final two years of his life.

Sir Richard Butler sat as an MP for Carlow in the Irish House of Commons from 1783 to 1790 and again from 1796 to 1801. He was elected to the British parliament in 1802 along with William Henry Burton, who had also long service in the Irish House.

Beauchamp Bagenal, described as the most handsome man in Ireland, was 11 years of age when he inherited the family estates. Born in Carlow in 1741, he had a reputation as a hellraiser, and in his travels, as recorded by Jonah Barrington, he fought a prince, jilted Princess Charlotte

Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who would later marry King George III, carried away a Duchess from Madrid, scaled the walls of a convent in that city, and fought a duel in Paris. Despite all this, he found time to serve as an MP, first for Enniscorthy (1761-69), then for Carlow (1768-76) and again in 1778-83.

Old Leighlin was a Parliament of Ireland constituency in its own right from 1692 until being disenfranchised in 1801. Carlow borough elected one MP, and the county elected two to the British house from 1801 to ’85, when the borough joined the county. And from that point until 1922, it elected just one member. Two points of history here: (1) Carlow was the only county not divided for electoral purposes in 1885; and (2), as a consequence, it was the only county constituency to exist from the Act of Union to partition. It ceased entitlement to representation in the House of Commons on 26 October 1922.

The first MP to be elected for Carlow under the new system was Edmund Dwyer Gray, a newspaper owner (the Freeman’s Journal, now the Irish Independent), who was also high sheriff of Dublin. He also served a term as lord mayor. He died on 27 March 1888 at the age of 42.

Sinn Féin representative James Lennon would be the last MP for the constituency, elected unopposed in 1918, and likewise in the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency in 1921 where he was joined by three other Sinn Féin TDs, including WT Cosgrove, who would have a distinguished political career. Gearóid O’Sullivan, a teacher, barrister, army officer and Fine Gael politician, was a cousin of Michael Collins. The fourth member was Edward Aylward. None of the elected Sinn Féin candidates took their seats in the House of Commons. Instead, they formed the first Dáil in the Mansion House. In the 1922 election, Denis Gorey of the Farmers’ Party was elected and would serve until his death in 1940, switching first to Cumann na nGaedhael in 1927 and then to Fine Gael.

A notable dynasty would begin in the 1933 election to the eighth Dáil when Labour party candidate James Pattison would be one of those elected. From then he served up to 1951 (even when Kilkenny became a three-seat constituency on its own) when he lost his seat. However, he bounced back in 1954 and was re-elected, but lost again in 1957 and retired.

However, this was not the end of the Pattison presence in the Dáil. His son Seamus was elected in 1961 and served as a Labour TD for Carlow-Kilkenny for an unbroken 46 years, serving as ceann comhairle from 1997 to 2000. He retired in 2007.

From 1937 to 1948, Kilkenny went its own way as a three-seater, while Carlow joined Kildare as a four-seater. This situation was then reversed when Carlow rejoined Kilkenny. Fianna Fáil TD Francis Humphry spent 19 years in the Dáil. He represented both constituencies Carlow was involved with, and had a see-saw battle with James Pattison, whom he unseated in 1951, losing to him in ’54, and regaining the seat in ’57. He died on 19 April 1961. No by-election was held until the general election of that year, when Seamus Pattison took the seat.

Another long-serving member was Jim Gibbons who, in his 25 years as TD (1957-82), served as minister for defence (1969-70) and agriculture (1970-73) and also 1977-79.

The Crottys were another family with long service. They held a seat for more than 40 years, representing Fine Gael Patrick from 1948-1969, and his son Kieran 1969-1989. Fianna Fáil’s Liam Aylward was a TD from 1977 to 2002 and is a current MEP.

Mary White from Borris, deputy leader of the Green Party, is the current minister of state with special responsibility for equality, integration and human rights. She became the first Green Party candidate to be elected to the Dáil from this constituency when she won a seat in 2007. And this is also the first time that Labour is without a Dáil seat in the constituency since 1961.

The newest electoral system in Ireland is the European Parliament, in which Carlow is placed in the East Electoral Area. Prior to the 2004 elections, this was the Leinster constituency, which returned four of Ireland’s 15 MPs. This is now reduced to three of 13, despite the fact that no boundary changes have taken place.

In 1973, what is known as delegation 1 (this only served for two months) was appointed by the Oireacthas to serve as members of the parliament. Included was Fine Gael TD and minister for finance of the time Ritchie Ryan. Also included in this were two Labour ministers, the late Conor Cruise O’Brien and Justin Keating. A second delegation served from 1973-77 (after the general election of that year), of which Bagenalstown Fianna Fáil TD Tom Nolan was a member, as was Jim Gibbons. The third delegation served from ’77 to ’79 Tom Nolan remained a member.

The first direct election took place in 1979, with a first-past-the-post system, which still operates. No-one from Carlow-Kilkenny was involved, and it would be 2004 before Liam Aylward became the first representative from the constituency to become an MEP.

I hope the above has been of interest and has given an insight into some of the electoral history of Carlow and the people who served the county.

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